The statistics are in. Demographers and human resource specialists predict a ‘looming crisis’ (Carroll and Moss 2002; Johnston and Packer 1987; Green 2000). The workforce is projected to grow only 8.2% between 2008 and 2018 compared to more than 12% in the previous decade and workers that remain will be older and more diverse (Employment Projections 2009).
And why, you might ask, is this relevant to writers?
It’s the generational communication gap, baby! And it’s not only here to stay, but has implications for every aspect of a writer’s world from the characters we create to the marketplace in which we offer our work.
Age matters as much as culture, gender and other demographic characteristics because generations share historical and social life experiences. These, according to the experts, offer broad profiles of an individual’s likely motivation, work style, relationship preferences, and attitudes toward authority and personal responsibility.
Now, I know what you’re thinking . . . ‘but I’m special, unique . . .me’. Well, yeah, but beyond individual quirks, we all have a great deal in common. The nuance of what’s common, what’s different, and the why of it make our characters and their choices resonate with the reader
In the workplace, managers deal with conflict arising from generational diversity. The same generational diversity exists in the fiction marketplace ~ in writers, agents, editors, and the buying public. The same generational diversity (and characteristics) should show up in some way ~ even if it is to smash a stereotype ~ in our characters.
The experts disagree on the specific years (I’m either a boomer or Gen X depending upon whom I read), but the profiles are fascinating.
Traditionalists (born before 1942-45): loyal to organizations, respect authority, responsive to dedication and sacrifice as motivations, duty-driven (and bound)
Baby Boomers (born between 1943-46 and 1960-64): this group comprises 2/3 of the U.S. population, consider big picture and systems, disapprove of absolutes and structure, somewhat distrustful of authority, generally optimistic, self-indulgent
Gen X (between 1961-65 and 1980): impatient, multi-tasking, flexible, informal, self-reliant, question authority, cynical, short attention span
Gen Y (1981 to 2000): confident, tenacious, tech-savvy, lack conflict management skills, need flexibility, these folks come from the empowerment years where all the kids won and everyone earned a medal, they crave independence but prefer collective action
Gen Z (after 2000): the millennium babies
What can we do with this?
First, let’s consider our characters. I like the idea of a character who defies the profile. What if I have a Gen Y woman who is a traditionalist through and through, but is thrown in the path of a typical Gen Y man? Would the ‘bad guy’ behave differently in terms of horrible and heinous actions if s/he were a baby boomer versus a Gen X, Gen Y, or Traditionalist? My son, who is a millennium baby, asked me if Gen Z would have to save everyone because the BB, Gen X and Gen Y screwed everything up (out of the mouths of babes). He raises the appeal of the child who sees more clearly than the surrounding adults, and ends up saving the lot of them (Harry Potter anyone?).
Where are you in the generational continuum? What does this mean for your writing? And, for those of you with far more experience than me in the fiction marketplace, what might generational diversity mean for our profession?
NOTE: I’ll be working out of town on a project when this posts and may not be able to respond to comments until late in the day. Thanks – Liz
Carroll, James B., and David A. Moss. 2002. State employee worker shortage: The impending crisis. In Trends alert: Critical information for state decision-makers. Lexington, KY: The Council of State Governments.
Employment Projections – September 2008-18. 2009. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Washington, DC: United States Department of Labor.
Green, Marnie E. 2000. Beware and Prepare; The government workforce of the future. Public Personnel Management 29:435-443.
Johnston, William B., and Arnold C. Packer. 1987. Workforce 2000: Work and workers for the twenty-first century. Washington, DC: Hudson Institute.